Bleeding. Breaking. Breathing.

When I listen intently to my highest self, I am keenly aware that the obstacles I identify as roadblocks to my outward goals do not align as hinderances to my innermost desires. In other words, what I want and what I see as a problem in bringing that thing to fruition simply do not coincide. When I thoughtfully consider my truth for a successful life, it isn’t completely devoid of the material realm. “Money fixes a lot of problems,” said my 21 year old daughter, in a recent conversation. “It just does.” I had to agree that if one is unable to attain and maintain self-sufficiency of meeting ones needs, that, indeed, much could be solved with cold, hard cash. The inability to cover the basics of a satisfied appetite, reliable transportation and reasonable creature comforts necessarily impacts inner peace and happiness. Borrowing from Roco Belic’s award winning documentary, “Happy,” there is a considerable difference between the happiness of an individual who begins earning $50,000 annually compared to their happiness with no income. However, in the extensive study, carried out in numerous countries and cultures around the globe, there was no measurable increase in satisfaction when that income jumped from $50,000 to $500,000. Once the basic needs were met,  the happiness did not climb with the income. I attribute this fact to the Hedonic Treadmill theory, defined as “the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.”  As we consume, earn and achieve more, our spike in happiness returns to a baseline and we must consume, earn and achieve more to feel the same level of happiness as before the last set of mood boosting circumstances. This theory also accurately accounts for our ability to slowly return to a normal, though altered life after significant and tragic losses. When we first learn of the unexpected death of a close friend or relative, even that of a parent or sibling, it is incomprehensible that we will ever again draw a breath without the crushing pain of our new reality. As days and nights are strung together and the calendar continues pushing us to another tomorrow, we eventually regain balance. We become capable of simple tasks, of self care, and reentering facets of our life we were certain could never again be enjoyed. As such, the Hedonic treadmill acts as an emotional elevator, always returning us to the first floor of life. In this comprehensive study of identifying the happiest country on earth, Bhutan took the gold. It wasn’t wealth, occupation, material possessions or status that the citizens attributed to their exceptionally high level of happiness. And, when interviewed, the responses were nearly identical. It was community. It was connection. It was close family bonds and life long friendships. It was revering the elders and teaching the children, early on, that life, itself, is a celebration. Each week,  Bhutanese of all ages take to the streets in parade. The seniors of the communities line the narrow through fares as the cherished ritual gleefully marches past…music, dancing, colorful costumes, food, and laughter, all for the sake of the happiness it brings to their people. Bhutan’s way of measuring the success of their nation is in GNH…Gross National Happiness. What an incredible thought, huh? A nation that is first concerned for the genuine happiness, mental health and well being of every citizen. Without an entire nation having our personal best interest, we must own it, fully and solely.  In doing so, the first step seems obvious…figure out what makes us happy. It SEEMS obvious. Epicurus said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” He seemed to have a grasp of the treadmill. The reality is, if we can finish the sentence, “I’ll be happy when_________,” we may need to take serious stock of our lives. You won’t be happy when you get the boat. You won’t be happy if your boss stops being such a douche. You won’t be happy when you get a raise. You won’t. I love Jim Carrey’s take on achievements; “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” There is a sense of utter liberation in coming to accept that happiness is a state of being, an inside job and a decision that requires no one’s permission but our own. Don’t think for a minute that I would have you believe that I have somehow reached such enlightenment that I don’t experience frustration, anger, dissatisfaction, grief, and in general, funk. No. Sometimes it’s a blessing, others it’s a curse, but if there are four basic human emotions, I have at least 12 varying degrees of each. I feel. I feel everything. I feel you. I feel the energy of a room when I enter it. I experience the pain of others when they cry as a crushing sensation in my chest. I feel the abuse of animals so deeply, even as a writer, I have no words. So, how, with all this sensitivity does one manage to stay happy? Well, we don’t. At least not on the surface. Other emotions overshadow even the happiest among us and that happy homeostasis is not always easily restored. I am careful with dispensing advice, but I do make some pretty damn fine suggestions, sometimes. I highly, highly recommend driving (or better, walking)  to some unfamiliar spot- it doesn’t have to be far, just unfamiliar to you. Sit down. Breathe. Breathe deeper. Breathe slower. Ask yourself why you’re so uptight/worried/stressed. Give it time. Don’t try to fabricate a response to make this personal project go faster. As you do this, (especially, if you’ve never done this) thoughts of everything from an overdue oil change to wondering if you shut the garage door will enter your mind. Don’t be fazed. Thank your mind for trying to protect you from engine problems and robbers. When you’re trying to meditate. And, let it go. Go back to your original soul search…what is starting to come to your awareness? If meditation is not something you practice, this may feel utterly foreign and pointless. At first. But, with diligence and devotion, tuning out the world for a few minutes each day, as you look inside will eventually become a cherished ritual that you will refuse to do without. It is by excusing ourselves from the busy-ness, the tasks, the noise, the distractions that we get to the next level of knowing ourselves. And, here, I have found what makes me happy. Yesterday, I shared some of the many phases of my life: opportunities, traumas, career choices, and how each and every experience was necessary for me to be exactly who and what I am today. In that life mix, is a phase on which I didn’t go into great detail, and I won’t now, at least not today. But, I couldn’t quite convey my deep beliefs surrounding the importance of how we learn what truly makes us happy if I didn’t at least include the following: Several years ago, I was told, on a fairly regular basis that I had a “perfect life.” I had the house in a prestigious neighborhood, the sports car, the great marriage, two amazing kids, a host of friends, I traveled rather extensively and I was “happy.’ I had gone back to school, graduated with another degree, but  had taken a long break from my career as we never worried about finances. I had no health issues that I knew of. I slept without mental stress to interrupt my recuperative rest. I had no issues with friends or family, no drama. And, so went my turn on the mountain top. For brevity, I will share the crumbling of this chapter of my life at another time, for it is as defining a phase in where I am today as any other, if not more. When I say this chapter crumbled, I don’t mean via slow erosion. I mean a sudden train wreck. My marriage disintegrated almost overnight upon the discovery of a tragic set of circumstances that I decline to disclose here. I will simply say it was not from lack of love that our marriage ended.  Perhaps this was the most excruciating part of all. But, reconciliation was not a possibility. The fallout for my kids led to a cascade of mental and emotional trauma. With divorce imminent, he moved out and I remained in the too large family home with my son and daughter. I had no idea how to pay for this lifestyle. I was simply praying daily that I could keep food on the table. During this time, I started to have unexplainable symptoms with my heart. Over a 6 month period, I’d been in the back of ambulances more times than I could count. I was diagnosed with several heart arrhythmias, namely supraventricular tachycardia and AVNRT. The surgery was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, my kids, needing me badly, had a barely functioning mom. I was expended in every sense of the word. I craved relief. I relapsed. Now, alcohol was saturating a wasteland that mere months ago was the picturesque view of life just how I wanted it. When the money had ran out, and my disease nearly took what remained of my life, I recall sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, crying for something, someone, anyone to make it all stop. Having endured all this mortal girl possibly could, I was naked. Nothing sheltered me emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I had no where to go but out or up. By 1%, if that, I chose up. I had nothing, and therefore nothing left to lose. What did I need to be happy? First, I scanned the life I’d been living and realized I wanted a tiny bungalow, downtown in the historic district…not the neighborhood where I never felt a connection to my neighbors, save one. So, I let the house go. I made it from active alcoholism to recovered and productive. I went back to work. I made great money. My kids were coming back around. I looked at my inner circle of friends and it was, for the first time, glaringly obvious that not one of my “closest friends” had my back. I cut the toxic relationships without explanation or apology. I met humans like myself, who had found their authentic lives and welcomed me to be a part of theirs. They became my tribe. I got in shape. I learned crossfit, I did yoga, art therapy…I went rock climbing every weekend. I was HAPPY. And, money was tight. The bungalow was tiny. And, for the first time, I was the one to say, “My life is perfect.” Not because it was free of problems, but because I had gotten as real and raw with myself and with others that I’d been living anything but my truth. How could I? I didn’t even know truth from fantasy. I learned that I didn’t have to be unhappy just because life wasn’t happening on my terms. I began preserving more of my energy and became very selfish with my time. “No,” became a complete sentence and I stopped apologizing for being who I was. And, for who I wasn’t. So, right now I will tell you I want a Jeep Rubicon. Silver with a hard top. I want to continue living next to the sea…wherever that may take me. I want a perfect short hair cut with a rad shade of pink. I want to gain 20 lbs and I want to be finished with doctors, and tests and blood draws, for good. Except for living by the sea, none of those things are happening, for now. And, I am happy. My wish for you, as harsh as it sounds, is that you may be stripped naked. That you find yourself sitting amongst the shattered façade you believed was your perfect life. Your problems and your desires are likely completely unrelated. If you cannot achieve your desires by eliminating your problems, and you know this, you are well on your way. If any part of what you just read resonates, you’re already halfway through. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. And, don’t you dare think of going out…the “up” is closer than you think. The “happy” is NOT what you think. And, you will possess every ounce of strength required to cross the bridge of “who you are” to “who you want to be.” Now, start walking. Sit down. And, breathe. Peace Warriors

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